The important role of volunteers in emergency situations

We don’t have to say that volunteers are an indispensable piece in emergencies and disasters. In recent years, society has been shaken on numerous occasions by the support of volunteers in catastrophic situations, such as Hurricane Katrina in the United States in 2005 or the earthquake and tsunami in Japan in 2011.

In these emergency situations, volunteers carry out activities in different types of environments and, therefore, it is essential that they are familiar with the security conditions of the place to stay safe and minimize possible risks.

Given the complexities of today’s emergencies and the risks that volunteers face, it is critical that society, together with governments, facilitate an enabling environment for the protection, recognition and promotion of volunteers and volunteerism.

To get an idea, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is formed by more than 97 million volunteers, members and staff worldwide (13m are volunteers).

The big difference between professionals and voluntary workers is that the first one receives a monetary compensation for the service. However, in many cases both have similar functions and responsibilities. Therefore, in terms of risk prevention we can never forget that volunteers must have the needed training and equipment to protect their health as much as salaried workers.

It is true that in some countries such as Spain, in order to volunteer, volunteers are requested to have an insurance plan (Law 45/2015, of October 14) that covers accidents that may occur while they carry out activities organized by the member entity.

However, as we always repeat, prevention is better than cure, and therefore we emphasize the need for organizations to incorporate effective protocols and tools that minimize these risks to which volunteers are exposed in emergency situations.

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